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BP Oil Spill Crisis Management: How Not to Do it

If you want to know how to make a bad crisis worse, follow BP's example.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is huge. It would cover an area from Birmingham to the North Sea to France and to Southampton, if it was centred on London. I suspect that we would not be very happy about such an oil spill in the UK by an American company.

Faced with this disaster how has Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, coped? Not well.

Self pity "What the hell did we do to deserve this?" (April 29th) and then, infamously: "I want my life back" (May 31st): the eleven workers who were killed in the disaster would also like their lives back please, Tony.

Denial: ""the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." (May 14th) followed up on May 18th by "I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest," This far into the crisis, this shows profound misjudgement.

Arrogance and insensitivity: "I'm a Brit, I can take it. (June 4th): that's a nice way to incense the Americans, especially after he assured them he slept well at night (May 18th). Finally, he showed supreme misjudgement in declaring "I don't feel my job is on the line" (May 31st). Wakey wakey Tony: you are not only the most reviled person in America, your job and your company is on the line.

Faced with disaster there are a few simple rule to follow:

  • Recognise the problem early: denial is bad
  • Move to action fast: analysis and the blame game can come later, if ever.
  • Over-react, if necessary. Insurers know that a claim dealt with fast costs less than a claim dealt with slowly. Do it whatever it takes to fix the problem.
  • Show some empathy with people on the wrong end of things: don't go all introverted and play the victim card ("I want my life back").
  • Over-communicate, especially with the key stakeholders.
It is staggering that a huge company in a crisis-prone industry could handle a crisis so badly.

Much of the blame attaches to the CEO. The only reason for not firing him today is so that he can take all the heat and then a new CEO can start with a clean slate. But on the other hand, his gaffes are now putting the whole business at risk. Its time for him to go.

(Pic: World Economic Forum cc2.0)